Golf Course Review – Palmetto Dunes Resort (Jones Course)

Hilton Head Island, SC ( – FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect:
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (1967-69), Roger Rulewich (2002-03). Year Opened: 1969.
Location: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Slope: 137. Rating: 74.7.
Par: 72. Yardage: 7,005.


1 – Par 4 389 Yds 10 – Par 5 550 Yds

2 – Par 4 387 Yds 11 – Par 4 405 Yds

3 – Par 4 370 Yds 12 – Par 3 168 Yds

4 – Par 5 582 Yds 13 – Par 4 398 Yds

5 – Par 3 204 Yds 14 – Par 4 443 Yds

6 – Par 4 422 Yds 15 – Par 5 531 Yds

7 – Par 4 410 Yds 16 – Par 4 386 Yds

8 – Par 3 227 Yds 17 – Par 3 204 Yds

9 – Par 5 522 Yds 18 – Par 4 407 Yds

Par 36 3,513 Yds Par 36 3,492 Yds

Awards Won: Golf Course of the Year by South Carolina Course Owners (2003),
Rated four stars by Golf Digest – Best places to play,
#1 Family Resort in U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure,
Top 10 Luxury Family Resort by Forbes Magazine,
Top-25 Southern U.S. Golf Resort – Conde Nast Traveler,
10th Hole ranked as one of the Dream 18 by in SC (2013),
Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Key Events Held: Hilton Head Island Celebrity Golf Tournament (1979-present).


HISTORY: The first venue built at the Palmetto Dunes Resort, the Robert Trent
Jones Course, is also one of the first courses ever designed on Hilton Head
Island, behind only two layouts at Sea Pines and venues at Port Royal and

Although the golf course has become one of the Island’s most famous layouts,
it was the course designer, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. who brought credibility to
the layout and Hilton Head.

Many in the business consider RTJ to be the father of modern architecture and
at the time, he was the leading course designer and renovations expert in the
country. In fact, Jones was awarded the first Donald Ross Award for
outstanding contributions to the industry and was the first architect inducted
into the World Golf Hall of Fame (1987).

Jones crafted, redesigned and renovated around 500 courses around the world,
with a resume of layouts that have stood the test of time. Some of his most
famous work includes; Peachtree Golf Club (with Bobby Jones), Spyglass Hill,
Congressional Country Club (Blue Course), Hazeltine National, The Prince Golf
Course and Valderrama Golf Club.

In addition, Jones was a master of the renovation, improving upon such gems as
Augusta National, National Golf Links of America, Oakland Hills, Baltusrol,
Olympic, Oak Hill, Southern Hills, Firestone and Aronimink. Although his son
Rees is considered the “Open Doctor,” for re-doing U.S. Open venues, it was
RTJ who first earned that moniker.

The elder Jones designed six courses in South Carolina, and while the Dunes
Golf and Beach Club gains most of the notoriety, his work at Palmetto Dunes
was quite significant.

Although it began as a 6,700 yard venue, the Jones Course now stretches over
7,000 yards long, and features some of Jones’ signature work, large fairways
and generous greens complexes. Water comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes, as
the layout twists and turns around an 11-mile lagoon complex.

“I would consider the Jones course fairly wide open and the fairways pretty
generous,” said Clark Sinclair, Director of Golf at Palmetto Dunes. “The one
thing it does have is a nice set of juniors tees, which they put in back in
2003. This has gone over really well with our customers, so much so, that we
put them in on the Fazio Course and at the Hills Course at the 150 yard

Jones, who never met a bulldozer he didn’t like, moved plenty at Palmetto
Dunes, none more evident on the par-5 10th, leading up to the vista of the
Atlantic Ocean, the signature hole on the course. This hole is one of just two
oceanfront holes on the entire island.

Born in England, Jones passed in 2000, just six days shy of his 94th birthday.
How good was his original work here at Palmetto Dunes? Well, 32 years went by
before Greenwood Communities & Resorts, Palmetto Dunes’ parent company,
decided to make some changes.

So in 2002, the course underwent a renovation, as Jones disciple, Roger
Rulewich, who spent three decades as a senior design associate with Jones,
came in to refine and give the layout an upgrade.

Rulewich reshaped and restructured the tees, greens and bunkers. In addition,
he elevated and reshaped many of the fairways and improved upon the course’s
drainage system.

“Roger was on the original team back in the 60s,” added Sinclair, who has been
on the Palmetto Dunes staff since 1983. “They came in here, keeping the layout
the same, but basically turning the whole place upside down. They made the
greens bigger and shaped the bunkers with a little more definition, not to
mention making them larger. Additional mounding was put in, using the dirt out
of the lake from No. 7 and raised the green complex on No. 10. Amazingly, not
one truck load of dirt was brought in from off the island, as we used it all
from the resort.”

The work Rulewich and his team accomplished was so highly received, that the
course was named, “Golf Course of the Year,” by the South Carolina Course

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole on the Jones Course is a simple,
straightaway par-4 of just 389 yards, a perfect way to ease yourself into the
round. Trees line both sides of the fairway, but the landing area is devoid of
sand. The rolling fairway might leave an awkward lie, but with a short iron,
you should be able to attack the pin. The elevated putting surface is
protected by two bunkers, which will tighten your approach if the pin is up

In similar length to the first, the next hole features a tight driving lane
off the tee to a fairly generous fairway. Most players will use fairway metal
or long iron off the tee, as the landing area runs out at the 100 yard mark,
as water splits the fairway and the promised land. Another short iron should
suffice for your approach to a fairly simple green that funnels towards the

Position is the word of the day on the third, a short, dogleg right par-4.
Trees guard both sides of the fairway, with a 30-yard long bunker down at the
corner. Lay back with a 3-metal to set-up a short iron to this square-shaped
green. Bunkers guard three sides of the putting surface, but with a wedge in
hand, go for it.

At 582 yards, the fourth hole is the longest on the course and almost a true,
three-shotter. A pair of bunkers flank the right side of the fairway, pinching
the landing area, but an accurate tee ball can give the big hitter a shot at
the green in two. If that’s not the case, then layup to the 100-yard mark for
your best angle of attack. The putting surface is long and features a swale
from left to right in the center. No greenside bunkers to contend with, but
the narrow shape of the green will force the player to be spot on with their

The first par-3 on the course is the fifth, a robust 204-yarder that plays to
a fairly large green. The key here is to shape your ball from left to right,
as large trees flank the right, not to mention a deep, gaping bunker. The left
is also protected by sand. The ridge down the center, runs from back to front
and acts like a spine, deflecting shots left and right. Try not to shortside
yourself for your best chance at par.

One of the most difficult par-4s on the course, the sixth reaches 422 yards
from the tips. The key here is to place your tee shot towards the left side of
the fairway, thus opening up your approach to a very long and narrow putting
surface. You’ll need an extra club to reach the putting surface, as the green
is elevated and 2-tiered, running from back to front. Although a bunker awaits
left, the trick is to avoid the pot bunker on the right. Making par is a good

Although shorter than the previous hole, No. 7 requires an optimum tee ball,
as the driver over water from the back markers must clear 240 yards. In
addition, bunkers down the left tighten the fairway, making this one of the
more difficult driving holes. Even with a successful tee shot, your approach
needs to be spot-on, as the green is quite long and narrow, falls off on each
side and is guarded by two gargantuan bunkers on either side. Other than that,
piece of cake!

The eighth is an exciting par-3 over water to a very wide, but shallow green.
Reaching as much as 227 yards, your tee shot needs to be precise, not to
mention accurate. If you miss the wrong section, a 3-putt is likely,
especially with the spine down the center. The front and rear bunkers see
plenty of action, so pick the right stick. Oh, by the way, the wind off the
water, which you must carry from tee to green, really comes into play on this
devilish par-3.

The closing hole on the outward nine is the first of back-to-back par-5s. This
dogleg right is all you can handle. First-off, the tee shot must flirt with
trees down the left, sand down the right and the knowledge that water lurks in
your distant future. With a big blast down the left-center of the fairway, the
player does have the opportunity to give it a shot, however the lagoon down
the entire right side might change your mind. The layup is still a scary
proposition with sand left and the water right. Your approach to the green
will be with a short wedge to a fairly accessible green, that’s more wide than
deep. Use your GPS, get the right number and attack.

Number 10 is a straightaway par-5 that plays into the wind and towards the
Atlantic Ocean, as the green finishes on its doorstep. Out of bounds lurks
down the entire left side, while a 40-yard long bunker hugs the right. An
ample tee ball will leave a certain layup, so play accordingly to avoid
another long bunker in the landing zone. Your approach to the green will be
slightly uphill to a two-tiered putting surface, with three U-shaped bunkers
standing guard. Take in the scenery, but be mindful of the slick putting
surface, otherwise a 3-putt awaits.

One of this authors favorite holes, the 11th is a sensational par-4 of 405
yards long. Playing with the wind at your back (away from the ocean), this
hole requires strategy, touch and execution to give yourself a shot at birdie.
Anything less than driver should be used, as this hole plays, not only down
breeze, but downhill. The fairway is pinched on the left by a bunker, while at
the 280-yard mark is a lagoon on the right. With a medium to short iron, your
approach needs to be spot on, as water is dangerously close to both sides of
the diamond-shaped putting surface. A back-left pin can be quite difficult due
to the slope of the green.

The best par-3 on the course, is also the shortest, as you head to the 12th.
Only 168 yards from the back markers, this one-shotter is all carry over water
to a green surrounded by sand and water on three sides. The putting surface
runs from left to right and is quite long and narrow. Any shot mishit, will
result in certain demise.

Another watery grave awaits on the 13th. At 398 yards, this par-4 is not
overly long, but it requires pinpoint accuracy, as water covers the left and
right. You’ll need at least 200 yards just to reach the fairway and with a
penal fairway bunker on the left, it certainly brings the wet stuff into play.
A medium iron should remain to a green blanketed by four traps. This rolling
putting surface is not deep, but very wide, so missing on the wrong quadrant
could spell doom for your putter.

The most difficult hole on the back nine, the 14th is the longest par-4 on the
course at 443 yards. Not only will the length get you, but the cross wind,
water and sand can deter even the best player. Doglegging sharply over water
from the tee, you’ll need a big blast for safe haven to the fairway. With a
long iron or fairway metal, your approach must avoid three, greenside bunkers
and the water the runs the entire right side of the hole. In addition, the
putting surface is one of the longest on the course with a ridge splitting it
in two. Stay clear of a back-right pin. If I took this advice, I wouldn’t have
made a double-bogey.

What do you do with OB left and water right? Three metal off the tee and make
birdie on the par-5 15th the old fashioned way. There seems to be ample room
off the tee, but favor the left side, as a bunker right can make your time on
this hole less appealing. Another bunker, some 40 yards down the left is
reachable only with driver. The key on this hole is your layup, as the water
pinches the fairway, as does another trap down the left. If successful, you’ll
be left with roughly 125 yards to a manageable green that slopes towards the
center with only two fronting bunkers. A definite birdie hole, regardless if
you go for it in two or play sensible.

An average length par-4, the 16th plays straightaway from tee to green. The
key is keeping your tee shot on the straight and narrow, as the tree-lined
landing area will certainly get your attention. Avoid the large fairway bunker
on the right and you should be home free to attack the green. A word of
caution, the putting surface is elevated and falls off on all sides, so take
enough club and try not to miss long and left. This will make for a difficult
up and down.

The final par-3 is a doozy and not because of the 200-plus-yard length. Yes,
club selection is important, but three daunting bunkers, surrounding the
putting surface will have you scratching your head. Let’s not forget that the
green runs from left to right, is not very deep and has plenty of undulation.
One final item, miss right and you’ll end up wet. Other than that, piece of
cake, right?

Out of bounds, both left and right will have all players shaking in their
boots as they reach the 18th. The final of five par-4s over 400 yards, this
sharp dogleg left, boasts a tight driving lane, as two bunkers on either side
of the fairway play havoc with your tee ball. From there, it’s a medium iron,
slightly uphill to a fairly large target, however a very deep bunker that sits
well below the surface guards the right. The putting surface is quite slick
and rolls hard from back to front with a ridge across the center. Don’t be
caught shooting at the back-right sucker pin. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

FINAL WORD: No, the RTJ Ocean Course at Palmetto Dunes will not rival Long
Cove Club, Colleton River or Harbour Town on the island of Hilton Head, but,
what it will do, is provide the player(s) with an enjoyable experience that
will bring them back, time and time again.

And that is what any course or resort wants. Repeat business and happy

Don’t get me wrong, this is no pitch-and-putt golf course.

The Jones course can play as tough as you want. Whether it be from over 7,000
yards or as little as 2,600 yards, it all depends on your skill level. That’s
the beauty of the course. The advanced player will be challenged and the
beginner or not so skilled player will have a blast.

How many courses do you know that have permanent junior tees set up for the
younger golfers? Trust me, I’ve been all around this country and there are not

So, let’s breakdown the Jones Course.

Layout. Quite diverse with a wide variety of holes. Five par-4s over 400 yards
in length, three par-3s over 200 yards, two reachable par-5s and one over 580
yards. Water comes into play on 11 holes and the course features three true,
dogleg holes.

Fairways. As mentioned before, the landing areas are generous, but the rolling
terrain will keep you guessing.

Bunkers. All fairway bunkers are strategically placed and offer interesting
angles off the tee, while the greenside traps are big and bold, making for
difficult up and downs.

Greens. A staple of Jones’ courses, the putting surfaces on this course
feature a wide variety of shapes and sizes. From the long and narrow fourth to
the extremely wide eighth or the eye-popping 10th that fronts the Atlantic.

“The greens are Champion Bermuda and we’ve had them for 12 years now,”
said Sinclair. “The course has held up really, really great and we are noted
for our outstanding conditioning.”

Hilton Head Island has certainly come a long way since the late 60s, when Sea
Pines burst on the map with the PGA Tour’s event staged at Harbour Town.

“When I first came here it was quite simple with just a few restaurants and
places to go out,” Sinclair continued. “Now, not only have the home owners
made renovations, but the hotels have done renovations across the board, which
includes the entirety of Sea Pines, which is good for the island.”

One of three layouts at Palmetto Dunes, the Jones Course is certainly the most
popular at the Resort. A playable layout that receives over 45,000 rounds each
year, but you wouldn’t know it with the sensational conditioning of the

Over the many seasons, the Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes has attracted some
of the biggest names in golf, from Bob Toski to Bert Yancey and Johnny Miller,
who served as the touring pro at Palmetto Dunes in the 1970s.

If you come to Hilton Head Island to play some of the premier courses, you’d
be shortsighted if you missed out on the Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes

Everyone knows that the Rose Bowl is considered the Granddaddy of all bowl
games and that Pine Lakes Golf Course in Myrtle Beach is often called the
same, but when all is said and done, RTJs Jones Course is as ‘grand’ as them

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to